LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. China's Communist Party sent a strong message today to the people of Hong Kong. Simply put, no open elections for you. The decision puts China's authoritarian government on a collision course with the territory's increasingly aggressive democracy movement. A few thousand people turned up today in Hong Kong to protest the ruling. For more, we turned to NPR's Frank Langfitt who's following the story from Shanghai. Frank, good morning.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: What exactly are China's government and the pro-democracy movement arguing about?
LANGFITT: Well, specifically, this is about the way the chief executive will be elected for Hong Kong in 2017. Now the Democrats, they want the public to be able to nominate people and one person, one vote. China's OK with one person, one vote, but they want a committee, one that, frankly, will probably almost certainly tilt towards Beijing to select the nominees.
Not this pro-democracy group, the biggest one, Occupy Central, feels this is all rigged. And tonight at this protest downtown in a park, leader Benny Tai, he declared that the era of civil disobedience had begun in Hong Kong. And they're vowing eventually to shut down the city's financial center. But so far, they haven't given a timetable for when they're really going to kick off these mass protests.
WERTHEIMER: So what is at stake for the people in Hong Kong?
LANGFITT: A lot really. Hong Kong, you know, it was a former British colony. And when it came back to China in 1997, it was supposed to have a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. Hong Kong has free speech, free press, rule of law. Very different from the authoritarian system here on the mainland. But a lot of people in Hong Kong feel their freedoms are beginning to erode. And just last week is a pretty good example. Anti-corruption officials in Hong Kong rated the house of a guy named knee Jimmy Lai, he owns the Apply Daily newspaper. He's a huge critic of the Communist Party, big financial backer of the pro-democracy movement. And a lot of people in Hong Kong saw this as an attempt to really intimidate democracy borders there.
WERTHEIMER: Do you think the Communist Party is really worried about this pro-democracy movement?
LANGFITT: Well, I think that there - certainly they are concerned about losing control of Hong Kong. But they may be more concerned about the kind of precedent that it could set when they think about the mainland itself. You know, the party has always argued that Western-style democracy isn't appropriate for China. It's a huge, sprawling growing country, the largest population in the world and has a very specific, sometimes bloody and turbulent, political history. I think their concern maybe that if Hong Kong can freely choose its leaders and it goes well, it's going to make it little harder to keep telling mainlanders that they can't do the same. Also, you know, the Chinese Communist Party has a lot of problems out west in Tibet and certainly in Xinjiang where there are a lot of Muslims. In the northwest, there's a lot of resentment of the party and of ethnic majority Han Chinese. So the last thing the party really would want is more political power for people out there.
WERTHEIMER: So where do you think this is headed, Frank?
LANGFITT: Well, at the moment, if you believe what both sides are saying, this looks like it is headed for some kind of showdown over democracy, and certainly from the Hong Kong-ers point of view, the soul of the city. Occupy Central says they're going to kick this off with student protests. One of the questions will be can they get the numbers that they need? Beijing, of course, is going to be trying to oppose them every step of the way.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much. NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting from Shanghai.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Linda.
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